Believe it or not, it has been 12 years since Carrie Underwood took the “American Idol” crown. Through five studio albums and one greatest hits compilation, she has blazed her way from a shy girl from Checotah, Oklahoma to one of the biggest superstars on the planet. Last fall, she headlined the prestigious Madison Square Garden to a sold-out crowd, further cementing her place as one of country music’s greatest assets. Her continued radio success is the exception, not the rule–out of 20 (plus) singles shipped to radio, they have all peaked within the Top 3 on either Mediabase or Billboard‘s Country Airplay scorecard. Her most enduring hits include “Jesus Take the Wheel,” “Before He Cheats,” “Cowboy Casanova,” “Blown Away” and “Something in the Water,” among others. But often times, her deep cuts are far riskier and musically-ambitious; just take a listen to 2015’s Storyteller LP. On her fifth studio album, she explores Delta Blues, Patti Page-bent pop, alt-country and the signature sounds of her songbook.
10 Best Deep Cuts From Carrie Underwood:
10. “Do You Think About Me” (from 2012’s Blown Away)
Underwood rarely sings a song as sweet. It’s one of her most subdued vocals. She lets the plucky melody guide her, as she reflects on a past flame and if he thinks about her, too, and what could have been. Given her penchant for glory notes, this was a lovely change of pace on an otherwise dramatic record.
9. “Get Out of This Town” (from 2007’s Carnival Ride)
Being wild and free is not problem for Underwood, who packs up her entire life and plans to run away into the dead of night. “Let’s get out of this town tonight, nothing but dust in the shadows,” she wails. “Gone by morning light. Somewhere we won’t never get caught, never be found.” It’s that feeling of escapism that’s universally felt; we’ve all wanted to get away from our lives, if even for a day.
8. “What Can I Say,” featuring Sons of Sylvia (from 2009’s Play On)
In the aftermath of a relationship, Underwood plays a call-and-response with Sons of Sylvia frontman Ashley Clark (who has since pursued a solo career). They both consider the pain they’ve caused each other, not pointing fingers but wishing it had ended differently. The production is soft rock with a hint of classic Underwood pop. This could have been such a huge hit at radio.
7. “Someday When I Stop Loving You” (from 2009’s Play On)
The powerhouse can pretty much pull off any genre. But when she goes traditional, she truly shines. Touching upon such influences here as Alan Jackson, she pulls back the reigns for one of her most restrained recordings. From the howl of steel guitar and the pitter-patter of percussion, the song creates such a special moment.
6. “Starts with Goodbye” (from 2005’s Some Hearts)
Coming off “Idol,” Underwood had established a pretty diverse fan base, including plenty of pop fans. When listening to her debut album, there is a country half and a pop half. On many of the songs, she delights in production those pop fans would enjoy the most, even on the searing ballads. This cut frames her vocals in the best way possible, and the arrangement never seems cluttered.
5. “Relapse” (from 2015’s Storyteller)
Underwood finds herself caving into her craving for a former lover. “Don’t think I’m coming back, it’s just a relapse,” she attests. While her and her lover do have a storied past, she’s not above getting a quick fix. The heavy pop production conjures up ’80s influences, with pounding drums and very few country inflections (except for her inescapable twang, of course).
4. “I Know You Won’t” (from 2007’s Carnival Ride)
Lyrically, it’s rather mundane and repetitive, but Underwood’s otherworldly voice really sells it. For fans who adore her ability to hit the stratosphere, this song is one power note after another. The vocal acrobatics are a perfect fit for the song’s sorrowful message.
3. “Like I’ll Never Love You Again” (from 2015’s Storyteller)
Tapping into the magical era of the Nashville Sound–ripping a page out of the Patsy Cline playbook–Underwood also tips her hat to Patti Page, who crossed over into country with “The Tennessee Waltz.” It contains a hazy, magical feel and paints a rather vivid portrait of love. It’s quite different than most of what Underwood has explored in her career, and she would be wise to push the envelope even further.
2. “Wine After Whiskey” (from 2012’s Blown Away)
Featuring a smokey guitar line and noticeable stripped production, Underwood’s gritty portrayal of heartache is magnetizing. It’s one of the closest moments she’s gotten to infusing alt-country influences into her work. There’s a lonesomeness in the arrangement which serves as atmospheric pressure to the story. Again, how this did not see the light of day at radio is such a travesty.
1. “Choctaw County Affair” (from 2015’s Storyteller)
Sometimes it feels like “The Twilight Zone” when such excellent work as this misses out on a radio release. It would certainly be a gamble, possibly jeopardizing her winning streak. Reportedly, Underwood’s Storyteller is finished, ending with her latest No. 1 hit “Dirty Laundry.” Written by Jason White (also the writer behind Tim McGraw’s “Red Ragtop”), “Choctaw” is the best thing Underwood has ever recorded. Tragically, it only got one TV performance on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” last summer.